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A Ferry And Hint Of Northern Ireland

Crossing Date - 16 September 2020

By Ren Withnell

It is 104 miles to the ferry terminal from the Travelodge. Google suggests this should take 2 hours and 15 minutes. The ferry departs at 1200. The booking requires us to be there 45 minutes early at 1115. We can therefore depart at 0900 then.

That, that is how Sharon thinks. No leeway for traffic problems. No slack for mechanical mishap. No margin for a pee-break. No wiggle room in case there's any unforeseeable issues. Sharon also *STILL* believes she can get up and get ready to ride in one single hour.

I on the other hand am quite the opposite. Ideally we'd be up at 0500 and on the road by 0600. We might arrive at 0815 but then we can chill. Even I must admit this is perhaps overly cautious. And yet there are 2 things I am absolutely sure of. It takes Sharon 2 hours to wake, dress, visit the loo, pack, load up the bike and convince herself she is a normal human being and not an angry brain eating zombie. I am also sure that traffic and roads seldom comply to Google's estimates.

With a great deal of reluctance from both parties we have agreed to wake at 0700 for an 0830 departure. A resounding "harumph" echoed around the hotel last night.

I'm up and at'em by 0600, unsettled with thoughts of watching the ferry and the best part of £350 worth of bookings sailing away. Sharon grumbles into consciousness at 0645. And yet in spite of our differences we manage to be jovial and get ourselves sorted out. We don't quite mange 0830 on the dot, but near enough for me to be oh-so-slightly impressed.

Sharon has forgotten to bring her anti seasickness tablets. If, and I mean IF we get to Stranraer before, I'd say 1030, we'll drop into the town and get some. I found a chemist on the maps last night and have a simple map in mind. Otherwise if we run out of time we'll have to crack on and she'll have to suffer.

You already know how the journey goes. If you're not on a timescale the road will be clear, the lights will be all green and every junction will be trouble free. If you need to be somewhere there'll be a slow going truck with a queue behind it and every overtaking opportunity will have oncoming traffic. We have the latter. Logic dictates this is psychological, an effect of the tension. If there were no rush we wouldn't notice the slow truck, we'd wait patiently until the road allows a safe pass. Telling myself this as I ride is not relieving the stress.

A map of the route from Carlisle to Stranraer with lots of things to worry about added
This is the route map as seen from inside my head.

The clock ticks down, the miles seem to pass slowly. 64 miles? We have no chance at all. 48 miles and 67 minutes until 1030? Nah, she ain't getting to the chemist. 26 miles and I'm still pondering the options and doing maths. We should make the ferry but will we have time for the chemist?

We're close to Stranraer by 1020. It's right on the balance. We will have time if I find the parking and Sharon finds the chemist. I play the odds in my head, calculating, thinking, over-thinking. I sail past the turning for the ferry and head into town.

By sheer luck I spot the "Tesco" sign and pull into a small car park. A quick check on the phone suggests the chemist is through that ginnel and somewhere there. Sharon heads off as I pace up and down beside the bikes. She'll be ages. She won't find it. She'll have a jolly conversation with a local. They won't have the right tablets. She'll spend another age discussing if these other tablets are suitable. 

Sharon returns before I even have chance to finish my flapping and spiral down into despair - and with time to spare! The chemist is there, they have the right tablets and all is good. Feeling much calmer we set off to the terminal. 

As soon as we're out of Stranraer we can see the ferry, I thought it was farther than that. With about 25 minutes in hand we arrive at check in and hand over our paperwork. I take a long deep calming breath. And relax.

"I'm terribly sorry sir but we are instructed to inspect at least 2 motorcycles, and you two are it". Border patrol. I have absolutely no problem with this at all, in fact I'm quite chuffed we've been selected. Most apologetically I am wanded for metal, he finds my braces. He checks inside my helmet for explosives and asks me to open the top box. This is all done with respect, humour and kindness which I endeavour to return with a smile and a laugh. Sharon receives the same kind treatment by a lady officer.

The 2 motorcycles at Cairnryan port ready to board the ferry to Larne
Phew! we made it.

We join the queue and visit the loo, wait and then board. We have to strap our own bikes with the assistance of 2 eastern Europeans. I do mine and help Sharon with hers as one chap on a GS1200 remonstrates that the deck hand has over-tightened his bike down. Looks fine to me. I wish there were a better way but as an insignificant minority why would they spend the money? Ratchet strap over the seat it is then.

The ferry is much as ferries are. The crossing is millpond smooth with only the merest hint of roll to suggest we're on the water. At great pains to our budget we "invest" in a dinner if only to provide a legitimate excuse to remove our face coverings for a while. Sharon has a nap while I step out on deck to have a drag and take some snaps. Pleasingly the 2 hour crossing flies by and Sharon seems to suffer no ill effects.

Looking out from the ferry we see the receding land of the Scottish coast
Goodbye Scotland

Alongside face masks and social distancing this adventure brings with it another change. Sat-nav. No, no no, not a £500 waterproof Garmin, fool. No, Google maps on my £60 phone, a £5 bracket and a clear plastic sandwich bag if it's raining. I've used the phone on trips before but not in earnest, not to actually get places. My phone leads us out of Larne and onto the coastal road north, after a little confusion.

Regular readers will know I have had issues with managing my expectations in the past. I am trying not to repeat this ad-nauseam. Northern Ireland's coastal route is hyped as one of those "must see" road trips, the most spectacular scenery, blah blah blah. I have intentionally tried my best to put this hyperbole out of my mind and to try and experience it as it is. Let's see.

It is not majestic like the Highlands. It is not remote or wild or breathtaking either. It is still quite lovely. Small to medium sized bungalows dot the road here and there overlooking a variety of rocky outcrops and jagged beaches. Trees and car parks, meadows and bays, clusters of stone houses and vibrant green hills. There's traffic but nothing serious. After this morning's hysteria I am calm, comfortable and relaxing into this genial landscape.

By random chance we stop at Glencloy. The harbour is small and stout, purposeful and likely old. An information placard informs us this is where a scene from GOT(Game Of Thrones) was filmed which gets Sharon all excited, she's a fan doncha know. We recreate the scene as Sharon regales me with tales of the character's feisty nature. I can see Sharon wishes she too could simply kill all those that dare upset her. Sleep with one eye open Ren.

The walls of Glenclosy's harbour are this, strong and solid, protecting a cluster of small boats
Glencloy's sturdy walls

The next stop is Waterfoot beach. It is a humble, regular, sandy, typical beach still we take the time to look about and dip our bike boots into the salty brine. There's nothing to suggest a GOT connection and anyhow it's time to head for the chalet. Sat-nav soon has us out in the countryside and going in the right direction.

A broad, wide sandy beach with the hills jutting into the sea in the distance on a rather grey afternoon
Waterfoot beach is perfectly pleasant, if a little grey today.

Here on the open country roads there is one distinct similarity to the Scottish Highlands. Speed. Back home many countryside roads are limited to 50 now, and the rare 60 zones are either overcrowded or too narrow to maintain momentum. Here like the Highlands these roads are the main highways, essentially the motorways between towns. As such everyone save the odd tourist or tractor is moving at 65mph consistently.

At one point a large 50-seater school coach pulls out in front of us. Darn it! This will slow us down. Nope. The coach, complete with snot-gobblers, proceeds to hurl itself through the countryside with much aplomb and at times I'm struggling to keep up. As we whizz through the scenery I must admit I'm out of practice at maintaining this pace on such roads for this length of time. Sharon later informs me she is too.

At home town centre supermarket fuel costs £1.09 per litre, countryside prices - £1.15 give or take. In the Highlands expect to pay 20, 30 or even 40 pence per litre more. Similarly here in Northern Ireland the town centre supermarket fuel is £1.09, but oddly the countryside price is £1.10 to £1.13 per litre. I think we'll be having some of that! We fill up at a "Circle K", the irony of which is lost on Sharon entirely considering this was a favourite film of hers (Strange things are afoot at the Circle K).

The chalet is absolutely fine. You could be forgiven having only seen the blurb and the images on the booking sites that it is somewhat rural. It is on a regular estate on a hill in the outskirts of the city of Belfast. It is also a catapult stone's throw from the motorway. For some this might be something of a disappointment. For us this is fine. 

We're behind a bungalow, essentially in someone's large back garden. The bikes are out of sight from the road and behind an automatic gate. Good. The chalet is clean and well presented, just as in the adverts. Good. There's a kettle, toaster, tiny cooker come stove, toilet, shower, sink, fridge, bed, bedding, towels, soaps, plates, cutlery, pans, TV, books, chairs and all. Good. Sharon, I think we're gunna be just fine and dandy here. Our host pops her nose in to check everything is OK and drop off some spare towels.

Inside the chalet we see a large double bed and the home comforts
A bed! No sleeping on the floor on this trip.

The local Tesco is a healthy 25 minute walk down the hill. We get a little over-prepared and struggle to carry all our purchases back up the hill, but we survive. With food in our bellies and fridge we settle in for the evening. It's been a fair old day but a success. The weather has been good to us and the man on the telly assures us tomorrow will be amenable too. 

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Northern Ireland - A Covid Prologue The lead-up to this journey seems to have been a bewildered shambles. So how did The Dynamic Muppets manage to rescue their trip from the tangled mess of 2020?
It's A Bumpy Lumpy Ride Sharon's life is never simple. While getting ready for maybe, possibly, perhaps going to Northern Ireland she takes a moment to explain why she's been so quiet on here.
An Easy Ride To Carlisle It's an easy, lazy and relaxed start to this holiday with a handful of miles to cover and the weather behaving itself for once.
Space Sharon's luggage situation has improved but it's going to take a while for her to unwind, chill out and settle into today's journey. Aaaaaaand relax.
A Ferry And Hint Of Northern Ireland Ren is doing what Ren does best - flapping.
A Dip Into Irish Waters Today's lesson - don't place yourself behind angry small mythical critters.
Causeway And Coast Getting into The Giant's Causeway poses a challenge for a miser like Ren, can he avoid his wallet seeing the light of day? The Causeway Coastal Route and Torr Head Scenic Route may ease the shock for him.
Giants And Hobbits Sharon enjoys a rather wonderful day exploring more of the Causeway Coastal Route. Languishing in luxury on the back of Ren's bike while he does all the hard work. Sort of.
Ards Peninsula, Wonderfully Modest Today it's the turn of Ards Peninsula to be explored. Throw in the regular dose of disorganised nonsense and some fair weather, it might be a good day!
A Bit Of Irish History A history lesson and tomfoolery by The Queen Of Rain. Thing is, it's not raining. Something is wrong here, very wrong.
Lough Neagh And Money The Dynamic Muppets circumnavigate the largest lake in the British Isles. Is this the sort of place where a prudent miser like Ren would fit in?
Reflections Another watery day in Northern Ireland and still no rain on the horizon. Sharon contemplates the many and varied lives we get to live.
Ferry, Friends And Mostly Scotland In a remarkable twist Ren is not flapping! Nor is he ready to go home. But alas and alack 'tis time for this all-too-brief inspection of Northern Ireland to end. Take comfort in Scotland Ren.
North Pennines And Epilogue It's the end of the journey for the dynamic muppets yet there's still time for a little detour, or two. What did Ren make of Northern Ireland?

Reader's Comments

Upt'North said :-
Has M.M.lost her curse?
Ed, I too despise ferry and tunnel timings. Usually getting there way too early, although in my case Er'Indoors would be jollying me along.
Good read.
12/10/2020 13:06:09 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Has Madam Moisture lost her curse? Will Ren ever stop being a worry-wart? Tune in next week to find out!

So how come your Mrs North goes along with your "too early" principle and yet Madam Maybe Maybe-Not Moisture (M.M.M.N.M.) doesn't seem to share my concerns? I suppose it must be true that we are all quite unique and different.

12/10/2020 16:14:00 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
I always like to allow at least 2 hours. Of course this usually means hanging about on the quayside for that long. No fun when you've just spent the last 150 miles in a downpour - on one occasion I managed to get the bike into the coach station at Portsmouth where it was at least dry.

Electra, my wife, on the other hand is never happy unless the ferry / plane / train is actually on the point of leaving before she arrives. So we have some creative discussions......
12/10/2020 16:31:26 UTC
Upt'North said :-
We do like the small Scottish Ferries from the timetable point of view. It's usually just a case of turn up, pay (real money Ed) and wait ten minutes for it to dock, but unfortunately the larger Scottish Ferries are now so busy you are wise to book even if on a bike.
It's probably quieter at this time of year but you'd be mad to be riding around Scotland now.
On that note, have we heard from Jim and TI. Although I do believe the West Coast isn't too bad over the next couple of days.

12/10/2020 17:54:58 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
"creative discussions"! I expect your term creative discussions would translate into "heated arguments" for most of us Ian.

I too have spent many an hour sat around outside various ports, stations, even regular buildings, due to my allowances for mishaps. From catching an important and costly ferry through to just dropping in on a friend I'm habitually early. I admit age is softening my propensity to be premature (sic) when it comes to less urgent events like visiting a friend or meeting up for a meal, although I'll still do my best to be on time. But when it comes to things I have spent my own money on I wind myself up into a frenzy trying to ensure I realise my investment.

I just don't know how Sharon or it seems Electra can be so, I dunno, calm about it. Of course we cannot control major events like a serious accident closing a road, a landslide or military invasion. I find it psychologically easier to accept that whatever caused my tardiness was entirely not my fault and beyond the scope of good reasonable preparation. But it strikes me as perfectly reasonable to expect there may be traffic problems, perhaps a diversion, a minor mechanical hiccup, my getting somewhat lost or the need to stop for nature's call.

I find that with plenty of time in hand the ride can be much more relaxed. If I have several hours in hand then I don't feel the need to be pressing on and on. It's nice to have the choice to stop and rest, maybe admire the scenery and throw a sandwich down my gullet. As with the ride to the ferry all I could think about was "this many miles at speed x gives me an E.T.A of y..."
12/10/2020 18:21:06 UTC
Jim said :-
Upt’ - We’re tucked up at home presently - the main trip is next week, the Kinlochleven trip was just a wee day out (270 miles mind you). Currently debating whether to take both bike and car, to maximise flexibility. We’ll be away from Monday to Friday and intend to do 3 big loops from our base at Garve.

1. Skye, returning via A87 and Loch Ness.
2. Applecross
3. Scourie via Ullapool, returning via Laxford Bridge and Loch Shin.

Should be a cracker. Here’s another one from last weekend - looking towards Kinlochleven from the south shore of the loch.

Posted Image
13/10/2020 11:21:54 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Jim and TI, I'm just a lot envious.
The West Coast from Gairloch to Lochinver has become my new favourite part of Scotland. Although last year it was the Moray Firth and the year before that it was........yes I'm a mickle bit fickle.

13/10/2020 11:36:01 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Gorgeous photo Jim.
13/10/2020 11:36:50 UTC
Jim said :-
Thanks Ian - it’s hard to miss around there.
13/10/2020 12:24:58 UTC
Jim said :-
Back to the point of this article - Ren, I’m planning to head to Norn Iron next year. Met a bunch of Ulstermen on a rugby tour a few years back - intending to take up a drunken invitation to visit Ballymoney and see the races - if they’re on. I’m sure all the offers of a bed for the night, daughter’s hand in marriage etc. that get made on such nights won’t have been forgotten. Or more likely we’ll be at the Travelodge.
13/10/2020 13:05:32 UTC
Borsuk said :-
Mrs B tends to be much more relaxed than me about arriving on time, or in her case the nick of time. Normaly I like a healthy safety margin and when traveling for work I like an even larger margin of error. Normally when we are SPTTing we use the tunnel. We don't book until we are almost there and if we are going to be really late, what the heck, stay overnight somewhere and get one in the morning. With Mrs B being never more than 3 mins from a cup of tea when in the SPTT things are much easier on my nerves.

13/10/2020 22:14:39 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I'm sulking with you Jim for putting up such wonderful images. You know it upsets me terribly and causes me to yearn to be there myself. I shall be in counselling for another 3 months now. Pffffft!!

From where you are Jim the obvious route is the Cairnryan to Larne ferry, it worked well for us and is affordable. I'm not sure how the traction improver would feel about you taking an Irishman's daughter's hand in marriage though, I'd stick to sharing a beer and a few tall tales.

Borsuk - I imagine your commute half way around the globe has the potential for many MANY mishaps, cock-ups and disasters far beyond your control. If I needed to be in Brazil on Monday I think I'd leave on Monday, the week before.
14/10/2020 08:50:20 UTC

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